“And she waits our pleasure,” replied the King; “Don Felix d’Estaban, be pleased to conduct the last witness to our presence.”
love is strong. There came
Strength upon Woman’s fragile heart and frame;
There came swift courage.
Death has no pang
More keen than this. Oh, wherefore art thou here?
A profound silence followed Don Felix’s departure. Don Luis had so evidently evaded the King’s demand, as to how he had witnessed this important interview, that even those most prejudiced in his favor, on account of his extreme sanctity, found themselves doubting his honor; and those who had involuntarily been prejudiced against him, by the indefinable something pervading his countenance and voice, doubly rejoiced that their unspoken antipathy had some foundation. In modern courts of justice, to refuse the validity of evidence merely because the manner of obtaining it was supposed dishonorable, would be pronounced the acme of folly and romance. In the age of which we write, and in Spain especially, the sense of honor was so exquisitely refined, that the King’s rebuke, and determination not to allow the validity of Don Luis’s evidence, unless confirmed by an honorable witness, excited no surprise whatever; every noble, nay, every one of the Associated Brethren, there present, would have said the same; and the eager wonder, as to the person of the witness on whom so much stress was laid, became absolutely intense. The prisoner was very evidently agitated; his cheek flushed and paled in rapid alternation, and a suppressed but painful exclamation escaped from him as Don Felix re-entered, leading with him a female form; but the faint sound was unheard, save by the King and the Sub-Prior, who had been conversing apart during d’Estaban’s absence—lost in the irrepressible burst of wonder and sympathy, which broke from all within the hall, as in the new witness, despite the change of garb, and look, from the dazzling beauty of health and peace, to the attenuated form of anxiety and sorrow, they recognized at once the widow of the murdered, Donna Marie. Nor was this universal sympathy lessened, when, on partially removing her veil, to permit a clear view of the scene around her, her sweet face was disclosed to all—profoundly, almost unnaturally, calm, indeed—but the cheek and lips were perfectly colorless; the ashy whiteness of the former rendered them more striking from the long black lash resting upon it, unwetted by a single tear: and from the peculiarly dark eye appearing the larger, from the attenuation of the other features. One steady and inquiring glance she was seen to fix upon the prisoner, and then she bent in homage to the Sovereign; and emotion, if there were any, passed unseen.
“Sit, lady,” said the King, with ready courtesy, touched more than he could have imagined possible, by the change fourteen short days had wrought. “We would feign render this compelled summons as brief and little fatiguing as may be: none can grieve more than ourselves at this harsh intrusion on thy hours of sorrow; but in a great measure the doom of life or death rests with thee, and justice forbids our neglecting evidence so important. Yet sit, lady; we command it.”